Professional values and interpreter identity affirmed at a dental office.

January 5, 2016 § 3 Comments

Dear Colleagues:

Those of you who are regular readers of this blog know that I spend most of the year traveling for work. To me, travel is a priceless tool that lets me peek through a window and see the world as it is, unfiltered and first-hand. It was something that happened during my last trip of 2015 that made me think about who I am as an interpreter, what I need professionally, and in my opinion what the true professional interpreter and translator need so we can be better at what we do for living.

Last week, while in Mexico City, I lost a tooth filling and I had to go to a local dental office to take care of it.  Fortunately there was no pain, but this is one of those things that you have to take care of right away, so I made an appointment the following morning to see a local dentist.  For those of you who have received all of your dental care in the United States this would be a true cultural experience.  The first thing that surprised me was that as soon as I was sitting in the waiting room the dentist who was going to take care of my tooth came out to let me know that it would not be long before they call me to see him.

Even more shockingly, there was absolutely no paperwork to fill out. Being used to answering endless questionnaires and signing tons of forms and releases in the United States before seeing anybody from the medical profession, I have to admit that I was surprised. Then, almost instantly, it sank in: This was a professional dental practice managed by professional dentists who thought and acted like members of the dental profession. They saw me as a person who needed a professional service: I was a patient. It never crossed their minds that I was a customer, they never saw their job as an industry. There was no need for endless paperwork for the assembly line because I was dealing with real professionals in a field where there is no room for commodities. There were no forms, releases, or “cover your butt” documents to read and sign because the dentists were calling the shots, not the insurance companies, not the pharmaceutical conglomerates, not the professional associations that are in bed with all of these other members of the cast who are in the dentists’ environment, but hold different and many times opposing interests and points of view to those of the professional delivering the service that I was there for.  The service was delivered professionally and promptly and I left the dental office happy and satisfied with the way they treated me and the services I received.

Dear friends and colleagues, I saw in action what many of us have tried to do throughout our careers, and at the same time, I saw the ugly face of that “reality”, foreign to our profession, that so many are trying to sell us as the true state of affairs and the future of the “industry”.   Thanks to a dental problem in a foreign country I got to see what our profession really looks when the decisions are made by interpreters and translators instead of multinational agencies, incompetent project managers, and corrupt entities who want us to believe that we belong at the industrial park with the car manufacturer and the sweat shop, when in reality we are part of the professional services provider world with the physician, the lawyer, and the dentist among others who are downtown and very far away from the language maquiladoras where some want us to live.

I was a direct client, in this case a direct patient, who entered a professional services relationship with the professional to deliver the dental care.  I paid a professional fee for the service rendered, and I was treated like a valuable individual. The fact that I met the dentist from the get go, made me feel comfortable and safe, even in a place as scary as a dental office with all of its sounds and smells. I had peace of mind throughout the entire episode because I always felt, and knew, that I was dealing with the person who knew what needed to be done: the professional dentist.

My friends and colleagues, this is exactly what we need to do every day. We have to deal with the client directly, we need to get them to experience the abysmal difference between on one hand dealing with a professional interpreter or translator who knows the field, can solve problems, and can deliver a world-class service at a well-deserved and earned world-class professional fee, and on the other hand having to deal with ignorant front desk individuals, monolingual agency owners, and unscrupulous multinational entities who many times charge as much as a real top-notch professional interpreter or translator and pocket most of it while paying the timid, scared or mediocre individual who translated the documents or interpreted the event a fee that even a beggar would consider an insult; and on top of all that, they see them as customers in a made-up industry, instead of clients getting a professional service.

A visit to a dentist in Mexico City motivated me to reaffirm my commitment to the profession, and inspired me to continue to practice a professional service without falling for those self-serving sophisms spreading the idea that we are not professionals but part of an “industry”.  At this time of the year when most people make New Year’s determinations, I ask you to join me on this commitment to defend the profession and our livelihood from these outside forces who want to vanish the idea that a professional works and acts like that dentist who I met in Mexico City last week.  I now invite you to share your comments on the issue of how you are educating your clients about the big differences and huge risks of hiring a “maquiladora interpreter or translator” from the “industry” instead of a professional.

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§ 3 Responses to Professional values and interpreter identity affirmed at a dental office.

  • Leo Leal says:

    Tony, I really appreciated this piece from you. A couple of years ago, while working in the car assembly plants outside Saltillo, MX, the instructor I was working with – with whom I work some 10-12 weeks a year since 2005 – broke a tooth on the way down. And his experience with the dentist is remarkably similar to your own. Of course, I also did “medical interpreting” between patient-doctor, after my regular hours, but didn’t charge any moneys for the service, just a dram of Scotch or three once back at the hotel. The correlation with our profession is spot on. Happy New Year’s, colega!

  • Mark Willan says:

    Hear Hear! I worked for about 30 years before working as an interpreter as a Chartered Surveyor – a separate profession of international real estate experts, and have been appalled by the lack of professionalism, and the lack of expectation of it in the language services sector. the problem is mostly with agencies, many of whom are unscrupulous money-grubbers, little better than scammers,and we, the professionals allow them to get away with it. We need top organise better, defend our interests and this of our clients, because in the end, it is the clients who suffer alongside ourselves, if we are prevented from providing the quality service they need by the very type of approach you identify in your article.

  • Carolyn says:

    I couldn’t agree more. What a great way to make an analogy and make a point. I work this way and don’t think I’d have it any other way. Labor de picar piedra, pero el que persevera, alcanza. Thanks.

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